Advice from Author Nancy White Carlstrom: Read and Persist

One of the Alaskan authors who helped me along the road to publication was Nancy White Carlstrom. With over 50 published books to her credit, Nancy inspired a community of writers by bringing the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to Alaska. After 18 years in the state, years she says were her most productive, she now lives and works in Seattle.

Tomorrow I plan to address questions from an Alaskan writer who wonders how to get her children’s book published. But first, let’s catch up with Nancy, one of the leaders in the field, who offers great advice about publishing and persistence.

In second grade I wrote my first poems and stories and ever since have been a writer.
During my high school years I worked in the Children’s Department of the local
library in my hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania. That’s really where I developed a love for children’s books.

After teaching first and second grades for four years and studying children’s books
for two years, I opened The Secret Garden Children’s Bookshop in Seattle. For over six years I introduced children and families to good books. What a joy that was! But after our first son, Jesse, was born I decided to focus on him and writing. So I sold the bookshop to a friend. It has a third owner and has been in business for over thirty years.

Moving to Alaska gave my writing an incredible boost. We moved to Fairbanks on
January 15, 1987, so we jumped right into winter. It was a magical time.
Everything was new and fresh and the world around us gave me lots of book ideas. Our boys were preschool and toddler ages and so picture books were part of our
everyday life. It was the most productive writing time of my life.

My first book, Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, was published in 1986. The eighties and early nineties were wonderful years for picture books, especially for
the poetic ones I tend to write. It’s been much more difficult for the picture book writer the past ten years. Publishers that used to be open to all kinds of books, even the “quiet ones,” want instant bestsellers. Celebrity books are attractive because no matter what the writing is like, the author already has name and fame.

My advice today for people wanting to write for children is really the same advice
I gave twenty years ago. READ! READ! READ! Someone told me once, “I don’t want to read picture books because I’m afraid I might take something from them and put into my manuscripts.” But reading good books helps a person write good books. Something I take away from my favorite picture book may end up in one I write, but you wouldn’t know it. That special “something” inspired me, but I made it my own; in my hands, it took different shape.

The second bit of advice I have is PERSIST! PERSIST! PERSIST! If you cannot stand getting rejections for your manuscript, it may be difficult to become a published writer of children’s books. And if your stories never leave the file drawer or computer, you will never know. I continue to collect rejection letters although I’ve had over fifty children’s books published. That really is part of the business.

Just now the doorbell rang. Fed Ex left me a set of first proofs for an upcoming picture book. It is always a thrill to see one’s book at different stages. It reminds me that I’m very glad I didn’t give up.

After having one or many books come out every year from 1986 to 2004, I have had a gap of five years. In part this relates to the tough market, but also to various personal reasons. Even though each manuscript was accepted at a different time, I have the following three picture books coming out in 2009:

This is the Day, illustrated by Richard Cowdry, Zonderkidz
It’s Your First Day of School, Annie Claire, illustrated by Margie Moore, Abrams Books for Young Readers
Mama, Will it Snow Tonight, illustrated by Paul Tong, Boyds Mills Press

I have lots of other picture books in progress or being considered by editors. But what I would like to work on are my unfinished novels, one middle-grade and two YA.
Years before I became published, when someone asked what I did, I would say I try to
write children’s books. I guess I’m still in the stage of thinking I “try” to write chapter books. Hopefully, one of these days, I will simply say, “I’m working on a chapter book” and do it!

3 thoughts on “Advice from Author Nancy White Carlstrom: Read and Persist”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    What a wonderful introduction to Nancy’s story! I remember reading her “Before You Were Born” aloud to one of my children, not even realizing she was an Alaskan. Thanks for introducing us to another talented and persistent writer, Deb.

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